Stage winner, Spain's Luis-Leon Sanchez
Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez handed his stricken Rabobank team a welcome boost by soloing to victory on a Tour de France stage Sunday marked by mass punctures after spectators threw nails on the road.
The end of the 191 km 14th stage race was brought to life in equally dramatic style by a rash of punctures suffered in the peloton after nail-throwing spectators decided to liven up the final climb of the day.
Yellow jersey holder Bradley Wiggins survived potential disaster to retain his overnight lead of 2:05 on Sky teammate Chris Froome with Italian Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas still in third at 2:23.
For a while, it looked as though Wiggins would take more time off challenger and defending champion Cadel Evans after the Australian lost over two minutes when he suffered the first of three punctures at the summit.
Amid farcical scenes, he lost time waiting for a spare wheel and then his team manager Jim Ochowicz slipped into a ditch while helping the Australian a second time.
Wiggins' Sky team, however, did the sporting thing by instructing the peloton to sit up and ride at a pace that, eventually, allowed Evans to rejoin the bunch.
"Sometimes you've just got one or two guys, but when you get 16 guys puncturing at once it becomes apparent that something's happened," said Wiggins.
It later transpired that "one or two" spectators, according to race director Jean-Francois Pescheux, had thrown small nails on to the road.
Even Wiggins had to change bike, the Englishman signalling to his team car to stop as he got a quick replacement.
It left Evans in a desperate chase with his BMC team to catch Wiggins' leading group, although he admitted he had no idea what had gone on ahead of him.
"I couldn't see two minutes in front of me so I don't know what went on in front," said Evans, who said he has already virtually boycotted racing in Spain because of two similar incidents in the past.
"For that reason I don't race in Spain very often. It's cost me a Vuelta (Tour of Spain), it's cost me other races."
Pescheux later explained: "One or two spectators had thrown nails on to the road, we don't know why, but there were around 30 punctures altogether.
"The nails were mainly thrown on the ground around 200 metres from the summit of the Peguere climb.
"At the end, some riders ended up with two or three nails in their tyres."
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme was quick to condemn the incident.
"The punctures started at the end of the Mur de Peguere climb, and then on the descent, and it could have had tragic circumstances," said Prudhomme.
"It's very rare, but particularly dangerous. I can only condemn it as a stupid act."
On the first of an eventual three days in the Pyrenees, Spaniard Sanchez and his fellow escapees were left untouched by the nail-throwers.
He had been part of an 11-man break which built a 16-minute lead on the peloton and after counter-attacking Frenchman Sandy Casar on the descent Sanchez made a decisive move with just over 11 km to race.
One of only four of Rabobank's nine starters to have survived the race so far, he went on unchallenged to finish 47sec ahead of Slovakian Peter Sagan (Liquigas), who grabbed some precious points for his green jersey bid.
Wiggins's group came over the finish 18 minutes in arrears.
"I started the day with victory in mind but given the company I was in I knew I'd have to attack from far out to have any chance," said Sanchez.
"With Sagan, it would have been impossible to win a sprint. After the descent, I knew my only chance was to attack from far out."